A controversial article by a consumer protection attorney and former deputy attorney general of New Jersey has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Joel Winston published an article with the claim that the genealogy website Ancestry.com is “taking DNA ownership rights” from customers and their families. In other words, he says that Ancestry.com claims to own their customers’ personal DNA data.
Strong words, indeed. In fact, Mr. Winston’s assertions seem to be a bit far fetched.
Ancestry.com responded on the company’s DNA blog. Without mentioning Attorney Winston by name, Ancestry.com’s Chief Privacy Officer Eric Heath called Winston’s post “inflammatory and inaccurate.” Heath emphasized that Ancestry.com never takes ownership of customers’ DNA. Instead, the customers license the information to Ancestry DNA but the customers always retain ownership.
At first, ownership versus licensing appears to be a minor point, one that is of concern only to lawyers. However, after reading both sides of the issue, it appears that both parties believe the other party is mis-stating the facts.
I like the explanation on Snopes.com, a well-respected web site that specializes in correcting the lies and “urban legends” that seem to circulate frequently on the Internet. Snopes.com’s analysis of the controversy is written in plain, non-legalese, English. It points out there is a major difference between owning versus licensing.
The legally binding AncestryDNA Terms and Conditions can be found at: https://www.ancestry.com/dna/en/legal/us/termsAndConditions.
If you manage to read through all of those articles, I then STRONGLY urge you to read the common-sense analysis by Snopes.com at http://www.snopes.com/ancestry-dna-steal-own.
As for me, I have no concerns about licensing my personal DNA information to anyone, especially to a genealogy organization. It strikes me that DNA is simply a fact, something that is not under my control. I didn’t ask for my DNA and I had no means of influencing or changing it. I am neither especially proud of or ashamed of my DNA. It is strictly a fact, the same as my fingerprints, my hair color, and the color of my eyes. There is nothing “magic” about my DNA information.
I will suggest, however, that you need to make up your own mind about your DNA information.